One hears a lot about those killed by the incessant power cuts in the press these days. But not so of the poor souls, who lose their minds and are driven mad by the problem. That is, its psychological effect on the general public. Working in a mental institution - which I happen to - gives you an insight into the number of such ill-fated people and the frequency of such cases. I’d report only one such case, so as you can see for yourself how interminable power outages impact, to use Carl Jung’s terminology, the collective psyche of the masses and how it turns an otherwise peaceful citizen into a violent, uncontrollable and anti-social creature.  When he was first brought to the institution, he was lying unconscious on a stretcher. His pulse was unsteady and he was breathing heavily. Drenched in sweat all over his body. His hair dishevelled. His complexion bewildered, presenting all the symptoms of lunacy.

“Straight to the ICU,” cried one of our paramedics.

“He is in coma since yesterday and won’t utter a single word, sir,” said his attendant anxiously, holding a traditional straw fan in his hand and continuously waving it over the man on the stretcher.

“What happened?” asked the paramedic.

“He first suffered a sun stroke, while working in the fields. We brought him home, but there was this power cut whole week. He started fainting then and saying strange things. Someone suggested your place. So we brought him here, sir,” replied the attendant, keeping step with the rushing stretcher.

Back at the ICU, the doctors and paramedic staff did their utmost to recover the man’s consciousness, but to no avail. As a last resort, he was given electric shocks. And believe it or not, the guy was sitting up in his bed right the next moment. “Looks like all he needed was a little bit of electricity,” said a paramedic in a light tone and we all chuckled.

No sooner than the guy returned to his senses, he started chirping like the morning bird. The same clichés you hear just so often in the ICU: “Where am I? Who brought me here? Who are you people?”  We replied in the routine way and pointed toward the pillow to take some rest. “Oh, come on. I feel well rested. Don’t you think it is a bit cool over here? Could you please turn that thing off for a moment? It is killing me,” he said.

We duly obliged and turned the AC off. It turned out the man’s name was Noman. He had married only a couple of years ago and had a baby girl. A provider to a family of five. His father and mother including. He started again, this time non-stop: “You know I am no fool. I rather make fun of our leaders’ foolhardiness. They come into power as if by pure chance. As if caught off guard. A bolt from the blue, so to speak. Just look at Mr Tiger. Says, he didn’t expect the results. Well, yes. No one ever does. But at least keeps prepared in case the unexpected happens. Some groundwork. Some action plan. Some scheme of things, for God’s sake.

“My scepticism toward the ‘N’ League consists only in this: its leader refused a live debate on TV with his opponent on key policy matters. What was the harm in it? It is rather an accepted norm in the Asian Tigers. And so, as ever, we were kept in the dark. Not being able to tell who would do what ‘exactly’ with respect to the critical issues. Chief among them, power generation.

“Proposals abound. There have always been so many. As chattering is our national pastime. But like the proverbial Cat, who’d bell her? It is not job of the mice, you see. Not a single proposal seems to work. None, whatsoever. None is feasible. None is workable. None is practical.

“Wind energy comes first. It is only the wind, they say. The cheapest. Comes handy. No, sir. It is not only the wind. It is also the whistle. Only then would you whistle. Requires dough. Billions of them. Which, we don’t have any. So, wind energy is gone with the wind.

“Next comes the solar. Well, it is only the sunrays, they’d say again. Nature, you know. A free lunch. Yes, only the sunrays. But how to catch them? With butterflies nets or our homemade sieves? The West has caught them. But it has tact and intellect and technology. What do we have? Total ignorance, intolerance and injustice!

“Thermal is the fastest and easiest to get by. True, but there is a major evil attached with it. It is the costliest. Hence, the IPPs’ pleas: Instant Payments Please. There was this foreign debt. And the domestic debt. Now this third bogey. The circular one. A whopping Rs 742 billion. What did we just recently pay? A paltry peanuts of 10, ha.

“Coal is also there. We got huge reservoirs of it. Enough to supply us with 50,000 megawatts for the next 100 years. Oh, yeah? Just who’d dig it out of the Thar desert? Our gravediggers? Well, Dr Samar Mubarakmand is trying his bit. But all we have seen so far is merely sand and slime. And not a single piece of the black gold. So forget about it until the Chinese scientists come by with proper exploration tools and expertise.

“Most interesting of all is this sugar mills bagasse proposal. Bagasse being the waste product of the sugarcanes, containing the bio-fuel, ethanol. Well, I got no complaints about it, except this: the word bagasse sounds more like the word bogus to me.

“This leaves us with natural gas and hydro plants. Natural gas seems a fine idea. Costing only Rs 5.0 per unit against the thermal, which’s Rs 14 to Rs 28. But for that we will have look toward the West. I don’t mean the US or Europe. They only know how to bomb us. Not how to build us. Iran, you know, which lies to our west. Zardari may have done many stupid things during his regime. But we must credit him with this one. The gas pipeline project, despite Uncle Sam’s furious protestations.

“As for the hydel, it is a mere Rs 2.50 per unit. But, paradoxically enough, would take the longest to overcome the jinni. And who got time in our dear country for long-term planning? No one come to terms when it comes to a simple and all-encompassing solution: the Kalabagh Dam. Oh, sorry, folks! I forgot. Our leaders lack the political will and foresight to go for something big. All they could think of are teeny-weeny things and projects, profiting only a small fraction of the population.

“And so if I lost my mind, what is so funny about it? Were you in my shoes, without this air conditioner, this portable generator, UPS and all other power paraphernalia - which you could afford and I cannot - you’d also be playing the fool like me. Banging your head up against the wall. Turning violent, smashing things and setting on fire everything that would come your way - private property, vehicles, gas stations. Plundering, looting and what not?”

The writer is a freelance columnist.